Moon Lore, by Timothy Harley, , at sacred-texts.com
WITH the invention of the telescope came an epoch in human history. To Hans Lippershey, a Dutch optician, is accorded the honour of having constructed the first astronomical telescope, which he made so early as the 2nd of October, 1608. Galileo, hearing of this new wonder, set to work, and produced and improved instrument, which he carried in triumph to Venice, where it occasioned the intensest delight. Sir David Brewster tells us that "the interest which the exhibition of the telescope excited at Venice did not soon subside: Sirturi describes it as amounting to frenzy. When he himself had succeeded in making one of these instruments, he ascended the tower of St. Mark, where he might use it without molestation. He was recognised, however, by a crowd in the street, and such was the eagerness of their curiosity, that they took possession of the wondrous tube, and detained the impatient philosopher for several hours
till they had successively witnessed its effects." 1 it was in May, 1609, that Galileo turned his telescope on the moon. "The first observations of Galileo," says Flammarion, "did not make less noise than the discovery of America; many saw in them another discovery of a new world much more interesting than America, as it was beyond the earth. It is one of the most curious episodes of history, that of the prodigious excitement which was caused by the unveiling of the world of the moon." 2 Nor are we astonished at their astonishment when they beheld mountains which have since been found to be from 15,000 to 26,000 feet in height--highlands of the moon indeed--far higher in proportion to the moon's diameter than any elevations on the earth; when they saw the surface of the satellite scooped out into deep valleys, or spread over with vast walled plains from 130 to 140 miles across. No wonder that the followers of Aristotle resented the explosion of their preconceived beliefs; for their master had taught that the moon was perfectly spherical and smooth, and that the spots were merely reflections of our own mountains. Other ancient philosophers had said that these patches were shadows of opaque bodies floating between the sun and the moon. But to the credit of Democritus be it remembered that he propounded the opinion that the spots were diversities or inequalities upon the lunar surface; and thus anticipated by twenty centuries the disclosures of the telescope. The invention of this invaluable appliance we have regarded
as marking a great modern epoch; and what is usually written on the moon is mainly a summary of results obtained through telescopic observation, aided by other apparatus, and conducted by learned men. We now purpose to go back to the ages when there were neither reflectors nor refractors in existence; and to travel beyond the bounds of ascertained fact into the regions of fiction, where abide the shades of superstition and the dreamy forms of myth. Having promised a contribution to light literature, we shall give to fancy a free rein, and levy taxes upon poets and story-tellers, wits and humorists wherever they may be of service. Much will have to be said, in the first place, of the man in the moon, whom we must view as he has been manifested in the mask of mirth, and also in the mirror of mythology. Then we shall present the woman in the moon, who is less known than the immortal man. Next a hare will be started; afterwards a frog, and other objects; and when we reach the end of our excursion, if we mistake not, it will be confessed that the moon has created more merriment, more marvel, and more mystery, than all of the other orbs taken together.
But before we forget the fair moon in the society of its famous man, let us soothe our spirits in sweet oblivion of discussions and dissertations, while we survey its argentine glories with poetic rapture. Like Shelley, we are all in love with
"That orbèd maiden, with white fire laden,
Whom mortals call the moon." (The Cloud.)
[paragraph continues] Our little loves, who take the lowest seats in the domestic synagogue, if they cannot have the moon by crying for it, will rush out, when they ought to be in bed, and chant,
"Boys and girls come out to play,
The moon doth shine as bright as day."
The young ladies of the family, without a tincture of affectation, will languish as they gaze on the lovely Luna. Not, as a grumpy, grisly old bear of a bachelor once said, "Because there's a man in it!" No; the precious pets are fond of moonlight rather because they are the daughters of Eve. They are in sympathy with all that is bright and beautiful in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath; and it has even been suspected that the only reason why they ever assume that invisible round-about called crinoline is that, like the moon, they may move in a circle. Our greatest men, likewise, are susceptible to Luna's blandishments. In proof of this we may produce a story told by Mark Lemon, at one time the able editor of Punch. By the way, an irrepressible propensity to play upon words has reminded some one that punch is always improved by the essence of lemon. But this we leave to the bibulous, and go on with the story. Lord Brougham, speaking of the salary attached to a new judgeship, said it was all moonshine. Lord Lyndhurst, in his dry and waggish way, remarked, "May be so, my Lord Harry; but I have a strong notion that, moonshine though it be,
you would like to see the first quarter of it." 3 That Hibernian was a discriminating admirer of the moon who said that the sun was a coward, because he always went away as soon as it began to grow dark, and never came back till it was light again; while the blessed moon stayed with us through the forsaken night. And now, feeling refreshed with these exhilarating meditations, we, for awhile, leave this lovable orb to those astronomical stars who have studied the heavens from their earliest history; and hasten to make ourselves acquainted with the proper study of mankind, the ludicrous and legendary lunar man.